Wednesday, April 01, 2009

April and Other Fools

I’m not big on April Fool’s jokes. But about 30 years ago I played the perfect April Fools joke, the one no other could surpass, the one my daughter’s friends have used, the one that lives in memory. I haven’t been able to top it.

It wasn’t that big a joke but it was a win-win one; the best kind where everyone enjoys it. I set all the clocks ahead an hour the night before. Then on the morning of April 1st I woke the girls up in a panic that we had overslept. I rushed them to get ready, proving for once and for all that, yes, they are capable of moving faster when they want to. Once I got them in the car I told them “April Fool” and they were clearly fooled. Then we went out to eat for breakfast since we had an extra hour’s time.

And then—even better—I played the same exact joke on them the following year and they fell for it again. I remember the glee of driving to the restaurant and hoo-hawing in amazement, “You fell for it again!”

I’m afraid I don’t have a comparable joke for you this morning. Don’t bother watching for it. There’s no joke today. All I have is a couple of random thoughts that have been fluttering around in my mind, half-baked. My hope is that by exposing them to the light of day and some fresh air, maybe they will develop into fully baked thoughts.

First, since I’ve been noticing sounds lately, I thought I’d mention what interesting sounds are around us if only we think to listen. I was at a Taize prayer service Saturday night and it’s very quiet and contemplative. There is a lot of silence built into the service, including a long period for reflection. I began to notice the building was making a noise. I remembered this sound. About ten years ago we built a new sanctuary, chapel and office space. And it’s all still settling, even years later. Or maybe it moves as it heats up or cools down. We have a light box at one end of the room in the chapel that holds some old stained glass windows. Maybe when we turned the light on there was just enough heat added to the box that the wood made a noise as it expanded.

I remember that every Sunday for a long time after the new sanctuary was built we would be greeted by the smell of fresh wood every week. And during quiet times we would hear the wood settle around its frame, getting use to its new body. I don’t notice the sound as much anymore until Saturday evening at Taize.

But there was also the time I sat down in a wooden pew in one of the oldest churches in the country, the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. Their pews were old and would move when you sat in them. It was as though they were adapting to fit your individual size and shape. Barbara Brown Taylor calls them “prayer-soaked pews.” I expect this talent doesn’t come to pews quickly or easily. It takes time to develop this ability. And I decided that day I like it when the pew moves to greet your weight, to accommodate you. It was a friendly feeling.

The other thing I wanted to take a little time to think about today may startle you so get ready.

Our pastor intern preached the sermon a couple of weeks ago and, please forgive me Angus for not remembering the main point of the sermon, because I got very distracted by the pictures he was showing as he talked. (We often have visuals at our early service. It's very "alternative.") Whatever the sermon was about, he was illustrating it with pictures of the buildings in New York on September 11, 2001: the debris flying out into the air; the fire ball; the smoke billowing out broken windows. At one point he showed a photo of Osama bin Laden and the sight made me cringe a bit inside. The sight of the man was even more disturbing than the pictures of the devastation.

I was so distracted by the photo I couldn’t pay attention to what Angus was saying. The sight of Osama bin Laden’s face made me very uncomfortable. I kept thinking I wished we could move on to another photo. The longer the photo stayed up the more distracted I was. Finally he moved to another slide and I suspect everyone else in the congregation was as relieved as I was. I’m not a person to hate much but I guess Osama bin Laden has replaced Hitler now as the most hated figure in American istory.

The few tortured moments the image was projected onto the screen at the front of our sanctuary stayed in my mind that day. Then, that afternoon, after time had passed and my mind cleared, a very bizarre thought hit me. That is probably what Jesus looked like. You know, the guy who is painted a lot holding a lamb with little children gathered at his feet—that Jesus. The chubby little cherub who started life in a manger. Yeah, that Jesus.

Stay with me here, don’t freak out. Both men were from the middle-east. They would share the same skin color. They are both always pictured wearing traditional robes of the middle-east region. Why shouldn’t they look alike? Actually, Jesus was probably shorter than bin Laden. Maybe not even attractive. Just an ordinary human-looking guy.

There’s no joke here—just something to think about. Like I said, I have only-half-baked ideas to offer today. Try figuring out what it means and let me know because I haven’t a clue what to think of it, either. Let’s see if we can bake this into something we can both use.

I am toying with the idea of putting both of their pictures side by side here at the bottom but I just don’t think I have the nerve. Use your imagination.

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